The spread of critical race theory in schools has sparked controversies across the country. It disturbs the agenda of anyone opposed to change. The Critical Race Theory (CRT) movement is a collection of activists and scholars interested in studying and transforming the relationship between race, racism, and power. Critical race theory sprang up in the mid-1970s, as several lawyers, activists, and legal scholars across the country realized, simultaneously, that the heady advances of the civil rights era of the 1960s had stalled and, in many respects, were being rolled back.
The movement considers many of the same issues that conventional civil rights and ethnic studies discourses take up but places them in a broader perspective, including economics, history, context, group- and self-interest, and even feelings and the unconscious. Unlike traditional civil rights, which embraces incrementalism and step-by-step progress, critical race theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law.
Critical race theory addresses these and additional themes characteristic of the new critical race jurisprudence in simple, straightforward language. The core idea is that racism is a social construct and that it is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies.
CRT emphasizes outcomes, not merely on individuals’ own beliefs, and it calls on these outcomes to be examined and rectified. Sunny Hostin, lawyer and co-host of the daytime talk show, “The View,” had this to say during a segment on critical race theory:
I have been trying to understand what is going on with this sort of new manufactured wedge issue and it really is a manufactured wedge issue because everyone that is really learning about critical race theory knows that this is not something that is taught in elementary schools.
This is something that is taught in law school because I’m a lawyer I know that. This is something that came out of the Harvard Law School and was taught by Derek Bell, a Harvard Law Scholar. But what I have just recently learned is that someone named Christopher Rufo tweeted about it. He is sort of the manufacturer of this wedge issue.
He said, ‘the goal is to have the public read something crazy in the newspaper and immediately think critical race theory. We have to codify the term and we’ll recodify it to annex. The entire range of cultural constructions that are unpopular with America. We will eventually turn it toxic as we put all of the various culture insanities under that brand category.’
That is what this is about. That is, it and I am just so disgusted that so many people fell for it and you’re seeing people in school boards fighting over alleged critical race theory, which doesn’t even exist in schools. Teach our kids about the unfortunate history of this country because when you know, better you do better, right?
Critical race theory angers the unlearned. The thought of it being taught to students is scary to those who believe it will strengthen the divide. However, the goal of critical race theory is designed to produce the opposite effect. Much of the current debate appears to spring from fear among critics that students—especially white students—will be exposed to supposedly damaging or self-demoralizing ideas. That is a myth and not at all the foundation of CRT. However, critics like Rufo maintain that “it’s a form of neo-racism that’s ripping apart society.” He added:
It’s a form of neo-racism that’s ripping apart society. Critical race theory is a grave threat to the American way of life. It divides Americans by race and traffics in the pernicious concepts of race essentialism, racial stereotyping, and race-based segregation—all under a false pursuit of ‘social justice.
Critical race theory training programs have become commonplace in academia, government, and corporate life, where they have sought to advance the ideology through cult-like indoctrination, intimidation, and harassment.
The core idea is that racism is a social construct and that it is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies. There is a good deal of confusion over what critical race theory means and its relationship to other terms, like “anti-racism” and “social justice,” with which it is often commingled. To an extent, the term “critical race theory” is now cited as the basis of all diversity and inclusion efforts regardless of how much it’s actually informed those agendas.
Why are people so deadest against something that seeks to undo centuries of slavery-induced racism? Well, for one, critical race theory is an effective weapon against white supremacy. Left unchecked, it could start to solve one of the most destructive forces in American history—and one that is embedded in the American conservative ideology.
Republicans have long stoked racial tensions as a way to gain legislative seats around the country, and as the last four years indicated, it works shockingly well in some parts of the country. Many will remember how their leading man, Donald Trump, attacked diversity training, critical race theory, the 1619 project, and anything that reckons with America’s racist past. Conveniently, one of the most effective tools for combatting white supremacy is now totally “un-American” in their eyes.
There have been previous efforts to eliminate critical race theory before Trump, with criticism coming from thinkers on both the left and the right. Critics on the left questioned how scholars could theorize something that is a social construction. Conservatives, on the other hand, claimed that remedying problems like segregation and affirmative action is reverse discrimination and that race-based remedies were overcorrecting and creating new victims.
Nonetheless, critical race theory remains relevant as people in cities and small towns across the country lead ongoing protests for Black lives and as the country continues to grapple with the aftermath following the death of George Floyd in May 2020. Americans and organizations have pledged to become anti-racist, to actively recognize how silence or inaction amounts to complicity.
CRT rejects the belief that “what’s in the past is in the past” and that the best way to get beyond race is to stop talking about it. Instead, America must reckon with how its values and institutions feed into racism. Critical Race Theory is a way of using race as a lens through which one can critically examine social structures. While initially used to study law, like most critical theories, it emerged as a lens through which one could understand and change politics, economics, and society as a whole.
Critical race theory disturbs the unlearned. One cannot understand the political, economic, and social structure of America without understanding the Constitution. And it is impossible to understand the Constitution without acknowledging that it was devised by 39 white men, 25 of whom were slave owners. Therefore, any reasonable understanding of America begins with the critical examination of the impact of race and slavery on the political, economic, and social structure of this country. Hence, the importance of teaching critical race theory to any American who truly wants to make America great (again).
Opinion by Cherese Jackson (Virginia)
Fox News: What is critical race theory?
ED Week: What Is Critical Race Theory, and Why Is It Under Attack?
VOX: Critical race theory, and Trump’s war on it, explained
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